AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine triggers immune response that can cause fatal blood clots in the brain
Two different groups of researchers from Europe believe they have identified why AstraZeneca's Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine is causing blood clots
in many people.
The two teams of researchers, one from Norway and another from Germany, independently came to the conclusion that the vaccine is triggering an autoimmune reaction
, which causes blood to clot in the brain.
The researchers discovered this after multiple European countries temporarily halted and then resumed vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine. The temporary halt was prompted by reports of dozens of vaccine recipients being diagnosed with a condition known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). Most of the people affected by this were women under the age of 55. (Related: EU IN CRISIS: Deadly rollout of AstraZeneca vaccine destroys EU's reputation, shatters image of unity within bloc
AstraZeneca vaccine can make the immune system respond violently
Pal Andre Holme, professor of hematology and chief physician of the Oslo University Hospital
, headed the Norwegian investigation. Holme's team was able to identify a certain antibody created by the AstraZeneca vaccine that triggered the thrombosis.
"Our theory is that this is a strong immune response
that most likely comes after the vaccine," said Holme. "There is no other thing than the vaccine that can explain why these individuals had this immune response."
The German team was led by Andreas Greinacher, professor of transfusion medicine at the Greifswald University Hospital.
This team, which coordinated with researchers from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Austria, came to the same conclusion as Holme.
In a statement, Greinacher said that vaccinated people who are at risk of developing CVST will show symptoms up to four days after vaccination, including headaches, dizziness and impaired vision. He also said that the condition can be quickly diagnosed with a blood test.
Over a dozen cases of CVST were detected in Germany, with at least three deaths. Greinacher said that "very, very few people" will develop CVST following a shot of AstraZeneca, "but if it happens, we now know how to treat the patients."
After a healthcare worker diagnoses CVST, Greinacher said the condition can be treated in any hospital.
Norway and Germany restrict use of AstraZeneca vaccine
On Mar. 11, Norway temporarily suspended
the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. This was over a week before Holme announced the results of his study.
"This is a cautionary decision," said Geir Bukholm, Director of Infection Prevention and Control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health
, at a news conference held at the time. "We await information to see if there is a link between the vaccination and this case with a blood clot."
On. Friday, Mar. 26, Bukholm announced that the institute would extend its suspension on AstraZeneca for three more weeks
until Apr. 15.
"It is a difficult but correct decision to extend the pause for the AstraZeneca vaccine," said Bukholm. "We believe it is necessary to carry out more investigations into these cases so we can give the best possible advice.
Germany was much more hesitant than Norway. Despite the clear conclusions of Greinacher's investigation, the government initially said that it was sticking with its decision to use the AstraZeneca vaccine.
But the concerns never disappeared. On Tuesday, Mar. 30, after significant pressure Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn, along with the regional health ministers of Germany's 16 states, suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under the age of 60
Germany's vaccine commission, the Standing Committee on Vaccination at the Robert Koch Institute
(STIKO), said it made the decision to freely issue the AstraZeneca vaccine only to people over the age of 60. It rationalized this decision "on the basis of currently available data on the occurrence of rare, but very serious thrombosis-related side effects."
The federal health ministry said that Germans under the age of 60 can still receive the AstraZeneca vaccine "at the discretion of doctors, and after individual risk analysis and thorough explanation."
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